Controlling Persistent Organic Chemical Drinking Water Pollutants in Developing Communities: An Innovation Accelerator

A Special Event taking place during the Water & Health: Where Science Meets Policy Conference at UNC-Chapel Hill, October 10-14, 2016.


UPDATE: Please see our INNOVATION ACCELERATOR website for current info about this event and how you can participate.


Aqueous Solutions is hosting this Special Event to spur innovation on the topic of controlling trace organic chemical drinking water pollutants in developing communities.

This subject has too long been neglected in the WASH sector. This Special Event will change that through an “Innovation Accelerator” – an intense, dynamic session that brings together targeted R&D with critical feedback from technical merit and feasibility perspectives, and an audience of representatives from major government agencies, I/NGOs, and philanthropic foundations who can move institutional and financial resources towards critical needs and innovative solutions.

This Special Event will also feature an optional post-conference trip to the WASH Technologies Field Laboratory at North Carolina State University.  This will include demonstration of adsorbent biochar generation and applications in low-cost treatment systems that address both biological and chemical water contaminants.

Please save the dates October 10-14, 2016. A Call for Proposals will be made in May 2016.



In several instances, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) explicitly highlight the threat to community health from environmental and drinking water exposure to toxic synthetic chemicals. For example:

  • SDG 3.9 “reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination…”
  • SDG 6.3 “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials…”
  • SDG 12.4 “achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle…and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment…”

Unfortunately however, the global WASH development sector has so far paid insufficient (essentially zero) attention to organic chemical contaminants in drinking water. Environmentally persistent trace pollutants – such as pesticide runoff, pharmaceutical residues, industrial effluents, manufacturing additives, disinfection by-products, as well as naturally occurring toxins – impact water sources and threaten public health in communities around the world. Pollution by synthetic chemical contaminants is often more severe in developing countries compared to affluent regions as many compounds that have been banned or restricted in Europe and North America are used or disposed of throughout the developing world in an unregulated manner. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption, neurological dysfunction, organ damage, and other acute and chronic health problems.

Environmental Engineering and Science researchers are broadly familiar with the impacts of organic chemical toxins on environmental quality and public health in affluent regions, and have begun to recognize the large potential for beneficial innovation serving developing communities. However, such efforts are limited by the inherent disconnect of professional, economic, and socio-cultural context between affluent and impoverished regions, as well as by the lack of sufficient funding channels to pursue thusly motivated R&D.

This Innovation Accelerator Special Event will address these related challenges simultaneously by

  1. Raising the problem of organic chemical water contaminants to prominence in the global WASH sector
  2. Stimulating targeted innovation of potential treatment technologies
  3. Generating rapid evaluation and critical-constructive feedback from experts regarding technical merit and real-world applicability
  4. Eliciting commitment to support research, field testing, deployment, and scale-up from major WASH agencies



During May 2016 a Call will be issued for Proposal-Pitches on specific challenges within the domain of mitigating the impacts of organic chemical toxins on water and health in developing communities. Proposal-Pitches selected for the Event will be short (~15 minutes), compelling presentations that have a hybrid character – part academic conference scientific presentation, part “TED talk,” and part “tech start-up pitch to investors.”

The dynamic and engaging Pitches will raise the issue to prominence for an audience of leaders in relevant and overlapping fields in the water sector. Pitches will be made before a panel of eminent experts consisting of (a) environmental engineering and science researchers, and (b) on-the-ground experienced WASH development practitioners. When a Pitch is made, the Expert Panel will provide immediate critical feedback. Panelists from group (a) will evaluate the proposal based on its scientific and technical merits. Panelists from group (b) will evaluate based on feasibility given the contexts typical of developing communities and the specific circumstances of deployment described in the Pitch.

In attendance at the Event will be invited representatives from major government agencies, I/NGOs, and philanthropic foundations engaged in research, development, and funding of WASH programs. The discourse of Pitches and Expert Feedback will unfold dynamically under the visage of these representatives who can move institutional and financial resources towards critical needs and innovative solutions. The Accelerator Event will end with a statement of reflection-response from agency representatives along with commitment to allocate programmatic and funding support for research, pilot testing, implementation, monitoring, and scale-up to winning initiatives.



This Event will directly advance objectives of the global WASH research and implementation sector to provide safe drinking water to all. It will accomplish this by raising to prominence the harms done to the environment and public health by persistent organic chemical pollutants, and stimulating innovation for appropriate and affordable solutions to this Grand Challenge.

Professional networking and forging of new scientific and humanitarian service engineering collaborations will be major outcomes of this event. The Event will also produce an open-access web compendium of Proposal-Pitches in multimedia (text, slides, and video) formats.

The concluding session of this Event will solicit specific verbal commitments from WASH agency representatives – which will be recorded and published in the written record of the Event – to allocate programmatic and funding support for research, pilot testing, implementation, monitoring, and scale-up of treatment methods that mitigate chemical drinking water contaminants in developing communities.



The list of Special Invitees to serve on the Expert Panel and as WASH agency representatives for this event is still being formulated, but will include selected individuals from

  • University research programs and research institutes, e.g., University of Colorado-Boulder, North Carolina State University, University of South Florida, University of Oklahoma, Tufts University, MIT D-Lab, Loughborough University, EAWAG, The Water Institute at UNC, Center for Global Safe WASH, RTI International, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Development aid agencies and I/NGOs, e.g., USAID, WHO, World Bank, UNICEF, World Vision, Rural Water Supply Network, Water Aid, IRC, CARE International, FHI360, Water for People, Engineers Without Borders, CAWST
  • Funding agencies, e.g., National Science Foundation, US-EPA, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation